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1/7/2004
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SmartAdvice: Plan Ahead To Handle Increased IT Staffing Demands

Consider everything from improving customer support to beefing-up project-management skills and developing skill sets to handle increased demands on IT staff as business picks up, The Advisory Council says. Plus, consider information security integral to your business and approach it systematically, and build a leadership-development program to hone skills in your existing staff.

Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a weekly column by The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory service firm. The feature answers three questions of core interest to you, ranging from career advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to smartadvice@tacadvisory.com


Topic A: As business picks up, what should I do to rebuild my organization, tactical plan, and internal-management processes?

Our advice: As the economy improves, technology groups need to gear up to meet higher demand for their services and for new projects. IT is a pivotal area and IT managers should assess the following areas and address any weaknesses:

  • Improve "Customer" Communications
    IT is a key service organization. Though usually staffed by very bright people, they tend to be technically oriented, with little training in user interaction. An assessment of staff-customer interaction, both internal and external, is a must, followed by training or personnel realignment. Groups to consider include application development and user services. This will go a long way toward improving business perceptions of the IT organization.
  • Project-Management Capabilities
    Even without a dedicated project-management office, it's possible to create project-management standards. These standards may be as simple as word-processing templates for reporting, standardized project plan milestones (including key contact dates), and checklists for communications with management and clients. Draw from a review of what has worked best for you in the past, especially projects that were deemed successful and whose communications were praised. These basic lessons can then be expanded to create presentation, project, or design guidelines.

  • Related Links

    Project Management Institute

    Control Objectives for Information and Related Technologies (COBIT)

    Capability Maturity Model


  • Customer Service/Help Desk
    Users inevitably encounter technical problems ranging from minor issues such as forgotten passwords to major issues such as critical system outages. Customer support is probably the most visible interaction with users. It's worthwhile to review how it's working and what can be improved. Customer surveys, incident reporting and tracking, monitoring, and learning from best practices of other service organizations may be in order. The monitoring and reporting features of help-desk software also can help in identifying IT processes that have a large share of problems. This is one of the areas where improvement efforts should be focused and solutions quickly implemented.
  • Staffing For Rapid Change And Realignment
    The last few years have been difficult for IT, what with staff reductions and a chokehold on funding. Many IT departments are now staffed just enough to "keep the lights on." This makes it difficult to internally manage an onslaught of new technology. In preparation, internal and external alliances should be re-established to help manage large projects. Redirect the efforts of key personnel, while hiring and training. Managers, too, may need refreshment training in handling large projects, vendors, outsourcing, and staff augmentation. Key technology staff should be au courant with new developments and ready to take on unfamiliar challenges. The technology architecture should be designed for adaptability and not tied to vendor-specific products.
  • Planning
    Emphasis also needs to go into planning for existing services as well as new projects. Key to this is project prioritization. All projects, internal and external, should be listed, along with their required resources. As priorities change, the list can be sorted accordingly. Priorities should, of course, be tied to business justifications such as return on investment, cost savings, improved efficiencies, etc.
  • Planning can be complemented by periodic reviews of ongoing activities. Dates for these reviews should be set early (to get on everyone's calendars). Activities to be reviewed should include:

    • Change management


    • Configuration management


    • Deployment and testing of new technology


    • Security management


    • Problem and Incidence management


    • Performance and capacity management; and


    • Disaster recovery and business continuity.

    -- Humayun Beg

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